James John Tillyer

Date of birth: 9th October 1892
Place of birth: Southampton
Service No.: Not known
Rank: Able Seaman
Regiment / Division: Mercantile Marine
Battalion: HMHS Asturias
Died: 21st March 1917 aged 24 years
Death location: Insert data


Life before the War
James was the only child of Charles and Emily Tillyer.  He was born on 9th October 1892 in Southampton.  He was not baptised until 29th May 1901 at Freemantle Church, Southampton at the age of 8.

Charles Saunders Tillyer was born in Exbury, Hampshire during 1851. Charles died in 1933 aged 82. During his lifetime he was an agricultural labourer and a carter.

James’ mother was Emily Matilda Tillyer (nee Chiswell). She was born in 1864 in Southampton and baptised on 16 October 1864.  Emily died aged 94 in Southampton in 1960.

His parents were married on 31st October 1891 in Freemantle, Southampton.  The witnesses to the wedding were Harry Charles Mabey and Emily’s sister, Ellen Jane Chiswell.

In the 1901 census we get the first mention of James who was born just 8 years earlier.  He isTILLYER-pic-1
registered as living at 28 Paynes Road, Shirley, Southampton.  He is recorded alongside his
father Charles and mother Emily.  Charles’ occupation is listed as an ordinary agricultural labourer.

The 1911 census reveals James and his mother and father still registered in Paynes Road, Shirley but this time at number 60.  Charles is still an agricultural labourer.  James, now 18, has started working as an iron store labourer.

Military service
James’ military service history is not known, we are unable to trace it, however he was killed on His Majesty’s Hospital Ship (H.M.H.S) Asturias:

Weighing in at 12,000 tonnes, the Asturias was built by Harland and Wolff in 1907 for the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company.  In 1914 she was requisitioned and converted into a Hospital Ship and became H.M.H.S Asturias.  She saw regular action ferrying wounded men back from the Western Front in France and was briefly involved in the Dardanelles campaign.

Just before on midnight on the 20th April 1917 the Asturias was heading towards Southampton.  She was 6 miles off Start Point in Devon when a torpedo from UC 66 (commanded by Herbert Pustkuchen) hit and disabled the rudder of the ship and destroyed the engine room.With many of  crew killed by the initial explosion the decision was taken to abandon the ship.  In total darkness, two lifeboats smashed together while being launched causing further casualties.

It was reported that in total 31 people were killed, with 12 missing and a further 39 injured.  In some respects the casualties were light considering that shortly before the torpedoing the crew had offloaded 1,000 wounded in Avonmouth.

Despite extensive damage, Asturias was towed to shore and beached near Salcombe.  It was later towed to Portsmouth and for the rest of the war it was used as an ammunition hulk.  After the war it was rebuilt as a cruise liner and renamed Arcadian.

Although living in the times of unrestricted submarine warfare, the torpedoing of a Hospital Ship caused a great deal of controversy.

The last resting place of James is Southampton’s Old Cemetery Southampton (Section 278,C.176).  Inscribed on his memorial is the following:

UTW TILLYER, James John  Able Seaman


In loving memory
James John

the beloved son
and only child of C and E Tillyer
who lost his life on
HMHS Asturias
March 21st 1917 aged 24 years



James is also commemorated on Tower Hill Memorial in London.However on the discovery of his grave in Southampton, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission plan to remove his name on this memorial to the Merchant Navy who have no known resting place.


Researcher: Matheu Harris
Published.: 22nd September 2014
Updated: Insert dates here

If you have any additional information about the person named above please complete the Comments section below.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s